Published Feb 08, 2021Northampton rapper slowthai made his name with his 2019 debut, Nothing Great About Britain. No surprise, the "Brexit Bandit" incurred criticism from British nationalists for his flaming indictment of his home country. His aggressive musical style and onstage antics, whether motivated by politics or humour, didn't help his reputation.
But slowthai's latest album, TYRON, goes deeper than his grievances against Britain. With help from guests Dominic Fike, Denzel Curry and Kwes Darko, to name a few, slowthai has delivered a follow-up that shows Tyron Frampton, the person behind the artist, in full relief.
TYRON's first half features a barrage of quaking grime and drill slammers. Song titles spelled in all caps reflect this opening suite's familiar energy. Even though slowthai drops lines like "The whole world is mine!" on "45 SMOKE," all his flexing comes off like a performance, harmless fun. But as this half moves along, it quickly becomes clear it's not all fun. Don't be fooled by the flutes on "CANCELLED" — the grim track is an outright challenge to slowthai's critics, as Skepta throws down: "Show me your face / Let me see who's really tryna stop me / I pay the price / Don't care what it cost." On "MAZZA," slowthai and A$AP Rocky discuss self-doubt, drug reliance and how unfulfilled they feel, no matter how much money they bank.
Rap ballads, with titles spelled in lowercase, dominate TYRON's second half. On "i tried," slowthai bottoms out. "I've got a sickness that I'm dealing with / Feels like I'm sinking all of the time," he confesses. The song deflates after that line, matching slowthai's defeated attitude. "i tried" is TYRON's turning point, where he realizes the pomp he's known for isn't the real him; at the very least, it's not the full him. "adhd" and "focus" also reflect these sentiments: "Smile on the out, but on the inside I keep bleeding / Fun and games till you gotta take the blame," goes the former. And on the latter: "Mr. I Don't Give a Shit / Seems like I always did."
slowthai has also learned to take life as it comes — here, he accepts that some things are out of his control. On "terms," he sings, "I woke up and came to terms with it / No matter what, they get my words twisted / Whatever works / It could be worse / Shit could be worse." "feel away," featuring James Blake and Mount Kimbie, is slowthai's most ascendant song and TYRON's greatest standout, but "nhs" is the album's thematic centrepiece. Over a melancholic piano line, he rap-sings about the natural cycles of yin and yang: "What's a flight without turbulence?" This perspective helps him live in the moment.
slowthai is learning to shed distractions and detriments from his life. He's quit drinking, for one. He's focusing on living in the moment and not taking any experience for granted. But he knows that sometimes, there's no peace without turmoil. As the tender Deb Never feature on "push" goes, "The calm comes after the storm / Sit back and watch the rain / Breathe out before tomorrow / Slow down before you break and you're cast aside." On TYRON, slowthai sounds more together and present than ever. (Method/Universal Music Canada)